In 1985, Herman Montes knocked out a former world champion, but a talked about title shot never happened
By John J. Raspanti
Herman Montes was one tough “Kid.” If he was fighting today, he would own a piece of three belts, minimum.
Gene Aguilera, Hall of Fame boxing author and historian.
It wasn’t in my book.
Herman “The Kid” Montes
Seconds before he faced his idol in a boxing ring, Herman Montes’ father slapped him on the butt, warning him, “Alright son, kill or be killed.”
Montes was a month shy of his 26th birthday. He was comfortable and confident. Minutes before entering the iconic Olympic Auditorium ring, he lay in the dressing room he called "the dungeon, “listening to music. He was more than ready. The fight had been postponed twice before. The postponements only made Montes work harder. A win over former world welterweight champion Pipino Cuevas could lead to a coveted title shot.
Montes, and his older brother John, boxed as kids. It was love at first punch. Trained by their father, they fought in tournaments all over the country, winning a number of them. They shared the dream 0f one day being a world champion.
“My dad was an amateur fighter who won the Golden Gloves,” Herman Montes told me on the phone a few weeks ago. “He trained both of us from childhood up.”
As a young amateur, Montes found himself facing a world champion, and future legend.
“We were at the International Boxing Club,” Montes said. “My Dad was in charge of the gym. Someone called and asked if world champion Rueben Olivares could train there. My dad allowed it. He then put me in the ring with Rueben to learn and get some experience with a champion. He told me that was the best way to learn.”
The experience was rewarding--and painful.
“I was 15, but strong. I was knocking kids out,” Montes said. “I hit Rueben with a right hand. He sat down on the seat of his pants, shocked and upset. Oh, man! Was I sorry I did that. He got up and opened up on me with combinations.
"He hit me with a left hook to the liver. I wanted to cry. It was a horrible, horrible feeling. I wanted to fall down, but I didn’t. Later he taught he how to throw that left hook to the liver.”
Montes was 18 when he turned professional.
“I had butterflies,” Montes said before his fight. “I had such an intense feeling. This was what I always dreamed of-fighting at the Olympic Auditorium. I wanted to give a good performance. The butterflies were there until the bell rang.”
His first two years as a pro, Montes engaged in seventeen fights in 23 months, winning them all, scoring nine knockouts. Preparing to fight German Cuello at the Olympic, something happened that altered his mindset.
“A week prior to the fight, I’m coming home from the Main St. gym,” said Montes. “I got cut off by a truck driver. I honked, he got upset. At a light, he got next to me and hit my car with the door of his truck. I yelled at him. He got out of his truck-I got out of my car. He put his arm back to punch me. I threw a one-two and knocked him cold. He hit the ground.”
Montes thought he might have killed the truck driver. He left, but returned to the scene. The truck driver was OK, but Montes was not. He was later absolved of any responsibility when a witness came forward to state that the truck driver was the aggressor, and that Montes was acting in self-defense. On fight night, Montes couldn’t focus.
“I fought but I couldn’t put it together,” Montes said. “I was hesitating, something was in my mind. I was bugged. I lost”
Montes took a break to get his head together. When he returned, he reeled off nine victories before facing James Busceme in Beaumont, TX. Leading up to the fight, Montes wasn’t feeling well. A medical condition (STD) had weakened him. He thought he had the flu, still fought, and lost.
“I wasn’t right for that fight,” said Montes matter-factly. “Training was terrible, I thought I was going to die. The night before the fight, my temperature was one hundred and three. My dad told me I had to fight. A lot of money was involved-I couldn’t cancel. I was weak, and paid the price.”
Montes didn’t fight again for 17 months. He took care of some personal issues, hired a new manager. He won some fights before facing Tyrone Moore in Louisville, KY. Once again, the boxing gods seemed against him.
“The weight of the fight was to be one hundred forty-seven pounds,” Montes said. “When I got to Kentucky, two days before the fight, I was told the fight weight was one forty-two. I shadow-boxed every night for three hours to lose the weight. I was sweating it off. I couldn’t pull out, needed the money. I was going through a divorce and wanted custody of my kids. By the seventh round, my legs couldn’t hold me, I went down three times, they called the fight. I had no strength.”
Montes didn’t fight again for seven months. When he did return, it was to the Olympic to face heavy-handed Raymundo Torres. Healthy, Montes starched Torres in the opening round. He then knocked out Jorge Vaca in Tijuana, and Leonardo Bermudez at the Olympic.
When the phone rang again, it came with an offer to fight Cuevas.
“My new manager, Ricardo Maldonado, asked me if I wanted to fight Cuevas,” Montes recalled. “I said OK right away. The fight was called off twice. Cuevas was another fighter I idolized. A day before the fight, my manager called and says Cuevas can’t make the weight. He wants to fight at one hundred fifty-two. I said Ok, but get me more money.”
The crowd was roaring before either fighter threw a punch. They knew that Cuevas, the former champ, and Montes, “The Kid,” from Montebello, could crack. While Cuevas stretched, Montes jogged over to the former champion’s corner, eyes on Cuevas.
“Once the bell rang,” said Montes. “We went at it-exchanging leather with my idol.”
Went at they did. There was no feeling out or studying the opponent. Warming-up would be on each other.
This was war baby.
Montes delivered the first and last punch of the fire-fight. He jabbed, moved, and threw a right to the body. Cuevas, four years removed from his title reign, bobbed and weaved. Of his 30 wins, 26 were by knockout. He was dangerous. Montes went back to the body.
Seconds later, they both opened up, firing hooks at each other from close quarters. Montes dipped and clipped Cuevas with his “Rueben Oliveras” hook to the liver. Cuevas unloaded, but Montes blocked most of the shots with his arms. Except one. A big hook landed flush. Montes absorbed it without issue.
“I was in great shape,” Montes said. “I was mad when the fight was postponed twice-made me work harder. I ran hills, thinking, ‘He’s not doing this.’
Cuevas moved after Montes like a bull throwing home run blows. He wanted to end the fight here and now. Montes stayed cool, rolling with the shots, digging downstairs. Cuevas also went to the body, landed a right, but Montes fired back, hurting Cuevas with a wicked combination, and another left hook to the liver. Cuevas, against the ropes, fought back, but ate more leather as the bell rang ending an amazing round of rollercoaster violence. The Olympic was rocking.
“I could hear a roar in the ring,” said Montes. “He’d hit me, I’d hear, ’Mexico,’ I hit him, ’Montes’-back and forth.”
As if taking a breather after the violent intensity of the opening stanza, the first two minutes of round two was calmer.
Montes boxed more, moving slightly, setting up his jab, and letting his right go. Cuevas followed him, looking for a place to unleash his power. He fired a big right. It missed. Montes’ return fire did not. Cuevas went to the body and head. Montes landed a solid right to the chin. Cuevas responded with a hook that Montes blocked. “The Kid” landed a pretty one-two to the belly. Was he softening Cuevas up? They traded shots till the end of the heat.
“He never hurt me,” Montes said.
They fought six minutes of controlled fury. Now it was time to go to hell and back. To dig down deep, to see who had more left. Both landed hard shots, with Montes getting the better of them.
He jabbed Cuevas silly in the first minute of round three. His right landed. Cuevas was still looking for a place to unload his money punch, the left hook. Montes worked the body and head. Cuevas got closer and fired his knockout shots. Montes countered with a left, right, and left. He was the sharper fighter, but Cuevas was the home run hitter. He fired more shots. A hard right landed, and with within seconds, his left hook, as the crowd screamed. Montes, with his back to the ropes, pounded his gloves together, as if to say, “Ok, let’s go for it.”
And they did. Cuevas thought he had hurt Montes. Montes blocked most of the incoming, got off the ropes, and reloaded. They traded, until Montes turned the tables on the left hooker, letting go with his own short left. The impact of the shot spun Cuevas like a record on a turntable, depositing him on his back. He lifted his head briefly before giving into the inevitability of his knockout loss.
Montes was ecstatic. He had won the biggest fight of his career.
“I thought, I beat this big name,” Montes said. “Now I’d get a world title fight. I was 25 years old”
Instead, nothing happened.
“I never heard any talk of me fighting for a world title,” said Montes. “I asked my manger, ’Hey get me a world title shot, get me anybody, I’ll get the belt.’ It never happened.”
Instead, he fought Jorge Vaca, a fighter he had knocked out the year before. Admittedly overconfident, he didn’t train hard. His life was in flux. He remarried, got a full-time job. His priorities changed. He waited six months for another big fight that never materialized. He fought again, won by knockout, and then had to make a decision.
“I was ranked in the top-ten,” Montes said. “I was back to waiting. Never heard anything. My new wife didn’t like seeing me get hit. She said boxing was political. I had my job and quit boxing.
“Which was the toughest fight in my life--to give up boxing. I cried like a baby when I walked away.”
Montes was 26. He thought about coming back, but loyalty to his wife and kids kept him away.
That didn’t make it hurt less.
“I have some regrets that I quit,” admitted Montes. “You never know. I had people who told me I could have been a world champion. Woulda, coulda, shoulda, It didn’t happen.
“It wasn’t in my book.”
Perhaps not, but in a way, Herman Montes won a title when he knocked out Pipino
Cuevas in three brutal rounds.
What was the title?
Heart and guts.